60-second interview: Paul Jacobson, Thorne Research

Thorne Research: 80-90% of cancer patients take dietary supplements, but don’t tell doctor

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Related tags: Dietary supplements, Physician, Medicine

Thorne Research: 80-90% of cancer patients take dietary supplements, but don’t tell doctor
There is a sizable gap in the market for dietary supplements and nutritional advice specifically targeting people living with cancer, Thorne Research chief executive Paul Jacobson tells Elaine Watson.

Jacobson, who took the helm at Thorne last June, was speaking to NutraIngredients-USA.com after announcing a joint venture to develop supplements for cancer patients with Swiss pharma company the Helsinn Group (which sells pharmaceutical products for cancer support including injections to eases chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and gels to soothe the pain of chemo-induced lesions).

The new division with Thorne, which may explore other disease areas in the future, will also develop medical information and supportive services for healthcare professionals and their patients via the new Health Elements online platform.

Why are you looking at cancer support?

80-90 percent of all patients that have cancer already take supplements and in many cases, their doctors don’t know what they are taking, so there is a tremendous opportunity to develop products for oncology supportive care. We know that there are a number of naturopathic physicians that are extremely knowledgeable about this area, but we believe there’s a real opportunity for oncologists to further help their patients using integrative care.

What products will you bring to market, when?

At the moment we’re in the developmental phase, but products under a new brand will be launched later this fall.

Aren’t you limited in what you can say about cancer in the dietary supplements arena?

We’re not claiming to prevent, treat or cure cancer; we’re talking about supportive care: supplements addressing stomach problems, the immune system and the skin for people undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and other cancer therapies and we’re doing this in partnership with a pharmaceutical company, which is the right way to go about it.

As regards claims, our primary communication will be with medical practitioners who can access the clinical studies supporting our products and then advise their patients.

How has the direct-to-practitioner market fared during the recession?

Sales to the direct-to-practitioner market grew throughout the 2008/2009 recession and while not recession proof, the sector weathered the storm and continued to grow.

How will you drive sales to this market?

Our end customers buy our products directly from doctors and health practitioners and we have a sales force that targets them. In future, however, doctors will also be able to order or prescribe our dietary supplements for their patients via our new online portal ​[the result of the recent ‘Health Elements’ joint venture between Thorne and Integrative Health Resources].

Health Elements is not just about selling supplements, but engaging with doctors through providing integrative medical information and education, patient adherence and wellness programs and health and lifestyle recommendations. This will also be key to the joint venture with Helsinn, because we can use Health Elements to present the clinical evidence to support the new products.

I believe the push towards integrative medicine will be the fastest growing area of our healthcare system.

How well-versed are doctors in nutrition and the merits of taking dietary supplements in the US?

In the past, nutritional education wasn’t a key part of a doctor’s education, but almost all of the top 50 medical schools in the US now offer some integrative education. Our k​ey aim is to move more into the mainstream medical doctor space as well as the naturopathic physician space, where we are well established. There is a huge opportunity to do this as increasingly patients are asking doctors about nutrition and supplements because they have been doing their own research on the internet.

What else is in the innovation pipeline at Thorne Research?

I can’t provide details, but we will be starting clinical trials on a new product next month.

How do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace?

We are the premiere manufacturer of our own high-quality products to the health practitioner market. We seek to improve the process for doctors offering consultations to patients about their overall health and wellness by offering the best value proposition in the marketplace. Doctors and patients demand medical education, extremely high-quality manufacturing, and a process that makes 'wellness' more routine.

The regulatory environment is becoming more rigorous, but we’ve turned that to our advantage as we’ve raised a lot of capital that enables us to focus on the science behind our products as well as the finest manufacturing process that far exceeds legal requirements.

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